Homebuilder's advice: Stick to Your Niche (Better Builder)

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Stephen Olson of The Olson Co. shares the approaches his company takes within the California housing market.

January 01, 2008

Seven years ago, Professional Builder editors chose The Olson Co. as its Builder of the Year. The firm attacked the infill market with an approach it called "in-town" and had a knack for strong partnerships with local government.

That strategy still works for the company — ranked 75 on PB's Giant 400 list today — though it's adapted to the market and the economy. CEO Stephen Olson describes the approaches behind the Seal Beach, Calif., company's success.

It knows its niche

"It's a time period for builders to pay attention to what they do best and let go of experimenting," Olson says. For his firm — a stronghold in the California transit building market — that means constantly sitting in on government planning meetings with transit agencies and then adding homes along expanding rail systems. Residents don't use the train merely to get to work; they're traveling in both directions and for entertainment, too.

It follows its market conditions

California prices are up, and they need to come down if people are going to buy. That's the reality of the market, Olson says — and construction, design and land acquisition costs need to drop to meet that need.

It responds to its demographic

Two words: Live/Work. Designs that include an entirely separate office space adjacent to living space comprise 40 to 50 percent of The Olson Co.'s business these days. The company's communities include a large number of consultants who work from home — some with an employee or two — who need more than a home office to run their business.

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